I believe strongly in the benefits of speed training for all athletes, including pitchers. Proper speed training helps improve the stretch reflex, enhances coordination, aids in increasing all around hip motion, develops reactivity, and complements strength and power development. It falls directly in line with our overall philosophy of training pitchers to be fast, powerful, and explosive. “Train fast to be fast” is how I approach speed work. It plays a large significance in the overall development of all athletes and can especially benefit pitchers for several reasons that we feel are significant.
1. Neuromuscular System
The central nervous system is the driver of all movement, especially those requiring speed, power, and explosiveness. Throwing a baseball is a single explosive event based around creating power with long rests between throws. Pitching is nothing more than individual CNS intensive repeat efforts. We want to develop the nervous system to the highest level possible with every training mean available. Training for speed results in intermuscular and intramuscular coordination, rate coding, and in the end developing a more efficient neuromuscular system. A bigger motor creates higher outputs in power, strength, reactivity, explosiveness etc. Build the motor as big as possible with the best training means available. I know no better method for developing the nervous system than sprint training.
2. Chicken or the Egg
Does only strength training build speed or can speed training actually build strength? We know in lower level as well as many intermediate level athletes developing strength carries over into faster running speeds. The late Charlie Francis was a huge advocate of speed actually enhancing strength. He often referred to the crossover effect of strength training. Every muscle that is strengthened leads to every other muscle strengthening. All strength work leads to a crossover effect in the human body. This is actually the CNS in play again here. Just as strength work allows for more power on the track, more power on the track allows for larger gains in the weight room. They feed on each other. Again, being that the CNS is the driver of both, higher outputs in one assists the other.
3. Force-Velocity Curve
The force-velocity curve shows the inverse relationship that force and velocity have. When force is high as in maximal strength work, velocity is slow. When velocity is highest force is low. Training on each end of the spectrum assists in raising the entire line along the curve and benefiting all strengths. We can get the most bang for our buck by training at high speeds, as well as using heavy strength movements.
4. Posterior Chain
The posterior chain is heavily taxed when training for speed, or acceleration. The glutes, hamstrings, calves are all huge contributors. There is little else that develops the backside as athletically as sprinting. The stiffness that is required during foot touchdown can’t be matched with weight room activities. Sprinting can actually be injury preventative for the hamstrings as well. Game speeds for pitchers aren’t slow when bouncing off the mound to field a bunt. If you train slow when it’s time to turn it on under the lights, injuries occur.
Sprinting at high speeds develops reactivity which is the ability of a muscle to contract, relax, and contract again. This again ties back into the CNS, as well as the stretch shortening cycle and the ability to be powerful. Sprinting itself nothing more than a highly coordinated movement of equal and opposites involving every muscle in the body at high velocities. Speed training is a general training mean for our pitchers. It’s not necessarily specific to anything but neither is the weight room for that matter. However, in our opinion it is specific to creating a larger motor, and a more athletic athlete. Building a bigger motor with sprint training can assist athleticism in endeavors on and off the field.